The London Independent’s take on Hans Blix’s and Mohamed ElBaradei’s Monday reports to the United Nations typified the slight letdown that much of the world press seemed to feel afterward: “As so often with events that have been trailed far in advance as ‘make or break’ or ‘decisive,’ yesterday’s meeting of the UN Security Council proved to be neither.” Elsewhere, the Independent described Blix “[w]ith his trousers a little too high around his ankles and his jacket awkwardly rumpled across his shoulders,” his tone “that of a headmaster.”
As the International Herald Tribune observed: “On its face, the Blix report fed grist to both camps. Washington and London will seize on the evidence that Iraq is not complying with the spirit of the Security Council demands. But Arab countries, France and Russia insisted Monday that the inspection process was working and needed more time.” Most papers interpreted Blix’s strongly worded money sentence—”Iraq appears not to have come to genuine acceptance—not even today—of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and live in peace”—to suggest that the scrupulously even-handed arbitrator was fed up with Saddam’s evasions. Canada’s National Post, which supports the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power, was not alone when it concluded:
That these strong words came from the mild-mannered Mr. Blix is especially significant. Hardly a spokesperson for George W. Bush’s administration, he has frequently been criticized by Washington for failing to come down harder on Saddam. Now, Baghdad’s interference with his inspectors and its evident refusal to abide by international laws has apparently convinced even this relative dove of the need for stronger action.
Still, Blix’s and ElBaradei’s reports didn’t appear to persuade any editorial boards to revise their attitudes to an attack on Iraq. Britain’s Sun called Saddam “as deadly as a tank of piranhas,” and resisted calls for the inspections to be prolonged: “The search for these weapons cannot go on much longer. A few more weeks is all Saddam should be given. If it drags on too long, the UN will make itself a laughing stock.” Just as predictably, the Sun’s main rival, the Daily Mirror declared: “Saddam Hussein is a lying, cheating, devious tyrant. … The highly critical report by United Nations weapons inspectors confirmed what everyone already knew about this thoroughly nasty piece of work. But what it didn’t do is confirm what George Bush and Tony Blair want us to believe: that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and intends to use them. And that is the crux of this desperately dangerous situation.” The Guardian agreed, concluding, “There was certainly nothing yesterday remotely to justify the setting of timetables or deadlines for a lurch into war which, while smashing untold numbers of lives, could also smash the UN itself.”
Le Temps of Geneva noted that stock markets around the world plunged yesterday as investors worried about the effect of a war: “Iraq is no longer just a country and a population, it is a factor of financial instability. … The price of oil and the growth rate of American or European stocks counts for more than the number of Iraqi deaths.” The Russian papers were even harsher. Rossiyskaya Gazeta said: “The more obvious it becomes that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, the more categorical and intransigent becomes the tone of pronouncements by US officials. Washington does not know how to back down and does not like doing it.” Nozavisimaya Gazeta went even further, claiming that Britain and the United States are “performing a shameful farce before the eyes of the entire world, which could be caught up in large loss of completely innocent life. … Iraq is to blame for possessing fantastically large quantities of oil.” (Russian translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)